Gravity acts equally on all masses – wherever one is on Earth, they are being pulled down towards the core of the world at all times. In one way, we are always falling. But not all falling is the same.
Gabby Laurent’s images of falling comprise a spectrum of descent. From tragic to comic, from spontaneous to staged, from nonchalant to macabre, these aesthetically diverse photographs capture the artist’s numerous falls. Throughout the book, her body is in a state of perpetual movement. Often unfocused, frozen mid-flow, it seems to ricochet from the ground to the margins of the page, looking for an exit from the frame, while the camera makes an effort to keep up. Her body is seen from multiple angles and distances; it is both observed in action through different environments and studied closely to reveal its reactions – a gaping mouth, closed eyes, palms reaching out for the hardness of the ground.
At first unsure whether the artist stumbles or collapses, a sense of confusion emerges regarding how the viewer should feel – are these scenes funny or pitiful? Is the body parodic or anaemic? Why does it refuse verticality so stubbornly? It’s hard not to make the work about the gendered subject. A female keeps falling and, with her, ideas around her weakness, her inadequacy, her malleability might fall into place too. Women’s lack of agency over their bodies, challenged particularly by the 1960’s and 1970’s feminist avant-garde, is hinted at through certain grainy, black-and-white photographs that borrow a minimalist aesthetic, but also through the performative nature of the overall work and the use of repetition as main formal strategy.
It’s hard not to make the work about the gendered subject. A female keeps falling and, with her, ideas around her weakness, her inadequacy, her malleability might fall into place too.
Another nod to the period is a subtle interest in the way that meaning takes shape at the confluence of language and images. The title page of the book is displaced from its usual front setting to a later page, after the first nine pictures. Here, the title is joined by other words to tap into a possible imaginary of falling: asleep, behind, ill, in line, in love, pregnant, from grace, prey, apart. Idioms and phrasal verbs shift meaning away from the separate words that make them up and have a particularly random quality, where a new meaning is culturally assigned to the association. Perhaps they are a suitable choice to guide Laurent’s photographs, where the subject’s insistent slipping and stumbling starts to feel purposeful the more you see it repeated.
In fact, the artist falls down just as much as within herself. Her father’s passing, although invisible in the book, deeply affected her sense of control and balance and acted as a catalyst for the work. The act of falling becomes, then, a rehearsal of loss through which, gradually, grief can be processed. Letting go turns into a compulsion that supports the body’s coping and subsequent healing, one that favours the lesser source of pain. Counterintuitively, falling hurts less than standing up alert and aware, and self-preservation requires betraying instincts, overriding proprioception. From time to time, close-ups of the moving figure create the illusion of floating, seemingly entrapping it in a space where the laws of physics are temporarily suspended, like an episode of sleep paralysis. In one photograph that captures Laurent on the pavement, motion is entirely absent, her body appearing lifeless. However, the last pictures show the now pregnant artist coming back on two feet and starting to run. They act both as a confirmation of vitality and as a portal to a different state of being. Death becomes intertwined with life and womanhood with motherhood, while the body regains its composure.
Laurent’s fallings are heterogenous – sometimes humorous, sometimes serious; at times sinister, but ordinary on other occasions; real and performed; anticipating the tripping of her child and recalling the torment of losing someone and oneself.
A few other pictures in the book look more contemporary. They seem to share firstly an interest in the bodily form, in its capacity for both motion and stasis and its sculptural quality with Xu Zhen’s In Just a Blink of an Eye, a display of four live bodies dressed in streetwear, appearing frozen in the middle of a backwards fall. Secondly, they open up the series to visual practices beyond fine art. Akin to Vine creator Paige Ginn’s videos of herself falling dramatically in different social settings, the failure of the body, specifically of the young woman’s body, is transformed, through the spectatorship of others into something different, a realization of sorts. In the economy of attention, whatever holds the eye is valuable, regardless of authenticity.
Laurent’s fallings are heterogenous – sometimes humorous, sometimes serious; at times sinister, but ordinary on other occasions; real and performed; anticipating the tripping of her child and recalling the torment of losing someone and oneself. Her photographs could make one wonder whether, despite what physics tells us, there wasn’t more than gravity acting on the body in free fall.